On Monday, the Kansas City Chiefs hired former Nevada head coach Chris Ault as a consultant. Ault created the pistol offense that gained popularity in the NFL last year thanks to his former pupil, Colin Kaepernick, taking over for Alex Smith as the starter in San Francisco.
After trading for Smith, the Chiefs also hired Brad Childress to be their “Spread Game Analyst” in March. Smith ran Urban Meyer’s spread offense at Utah and obviously learned the pistol sitting on the bench in San Francisco last season.
Head coach Andy Reid has long been a proponent of the West Coast offense, making these moves curious for a team seeking a new offensive identity.
The hiring of Ault is particularly interesting, but it makes sense when you start thinking about the pistol offense separately from the read-option.
Using the Pistol
The pistol could be the next big thing in the NFL.
In the most basic form, it is just a shorter shotgun with a running back lined up behind the quarterback. It’s not just a formation because the offense can use many combinations of backs, tight ends and wide receivers. In fact, that’s part of its genius.
“The Pistol is here to stay,” Ault told The New York Times.
It’s not like the wishbone. You’ll still have guys like Andrew Luck who can drop back, throw the thing, sit in the pocket. But I’m going to tell you, he could run the Pistol. He’d be great in the Pistol. So would Aaron Rodgers.
Kaepernick, Luck, Rodgers and Robert Griffin III can all run the pistol. There’s really not a quarterback that can’t run it because it’s so flexible, but it does favor quarterbacks that can move around a little bit.
Despite the fact that virtually any quarterback can run the pistol, it was designed for the running game.
The pistol allows the running back to gain forward momentum and gives him more space to cut back. What this means is that coordinators can run inside zone, outside zone, counter or power run plays. This is good news for Jamaal Charles because it may mean Reid is serious about running the ball.
Making things easier for the quarterback is the key to the success of the pistol. Since Smith is the key to Kansas City’s success, it makes sense to try to maximize his talents. The pistol allows the team to run, but it also allows the quarterback to pass and use play action.
Somewhat like the shotgun, quarterbacks get the ball quicker and can immediately start to read a defense.
Mike Shanahan is known for his run-heavy version of the West Coast offense and was able to integrate those passing concepts as well as his zone runs into the pistol last year. The 49ers also used the read-option out of the pistol. The Seahawks did many of the same things with Russell Wilson, so the blueprints are there to make the pistol a bigger part of an NFL offense.
The Chiefs would obviously dial up fewer quarterback runs with Smith at quarterback. The idea would be to use the read-option as a wrinkle a few times per game.
Short play-action passes could still work in Reid’s passing offense out of the pistol, creating a passing threat in addition to a good running game.
A strong running game and play-action passes are essentially how Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman turned Smith into a good quarterback in San Francisco. This strategy limited how much Smith was trusted to throw the ball, but it was very successful.
Reid has a reputation for giving his quarterbacks easy completions and the pistol has that kind of potential. It’s not far-fetched to believe that Reid will try to blend his pass-heavy West Coast offense into the pistol in 2013 with a renewed emphasis on the running game.
It’s unclear how much we might see of the pistol in Kansas City, but it seems like we may see it quite a bit. The Chiefs now have the ultimate resource on the pistol and it would be a shame to waste it.
Stopping the Pistol
Who knows how to stop the pistol offense better than the man who basically created it? Ault knows its pitfalls and how to defend it better than anyone. If the pistol takes over the NFL, knowing how to stop it is going to be valuable.
Of course, stopping the pistol isn’t that complicated and it has been done countless times before, but Ault should still have rare insight. He obviously feels like it’s a hard offense to stop, but he certainly knows which defenses frustrated him at Nevada.
One could speculate that Ault was hired more to help the defense than the offense, but that just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Ault isn’t a defensive mastermind that has proven successful at stopping the pistol, he is the man that sparked its widespread use from high school to the pros.
We are also speculating that the pistol will see increased usage and that the Chiefs will face teams using it. Considering the lack of mobility of the quarterbacks in the AFC West, that’s no guarantee. Ault’s help on the defensive side is likely going to be only as needed.
Will the Chiefs use the pistol after the hiring of Chris Ault?
One of Reid’s underrated qualities is that he’s always been willing to adapt his offense to his quarterback and players. His offensive success in Philadelphia spanned many years and featured several different quarterbacks.
If the pistol was determined to be something that might make things easier for Smith and increase Charles' production, it’s well worth the money to explore it.
Hiring Ault as a consultant suggests the Chiefs are serious about it.
The Chiefs could just as well have studied the offense themselves, but they hired Ault and made sure he could only help them. If the pistol becomes the next big thing, the Chiefs are positioned to be ahead of the curve. It’s a high-reward hiring with very little risk.